This season we’re going back to our roots in California’s wine country, where the first Williams-Sonoma store was opened. Along the way we’ll be spotlighting the local chefs, artisans and producers who have made the region a top culinary destination and continue to inspire us, in the kitchen and around the table.
The Giacomini family has been raising cows in Marin County, California for three generations, and 14 years ago, they started turning their cows’ organic milk into unique cheeses at a creamery right on the farm. Now Lynn, her sisters, and her parents own and operate Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, which has won recognition for its creamy, punchy Original Blue and buttery Toma cheeses. Now, the family also offers tours, culinary classes, tastings and farm-to-table dinners at The Fork.
Here, we ask Lynn all about making cheese, life on the farm and her favorite ways to enjoy cheese at home.
Tell us about your family’s story and how you began making cheese.
The Giacomini commitment to producing superior quality, farmstead dairy products began over 80 years ago in the mountains of Italy. Three generations later, Bob Giacomini continues the family tradition on the scenic coast of Marin County, California as Robert Giacomini Dairy Inc. Bob began milking cows on his ranch in Point Reyes in 1959 and continued for the next 40 years selling his fluid milk off the farm. Bob and his wife Dean, together with his daughters, Karen, Diana, Jill and I, embarked on an adventure into the art of making blue cheese in early 1999.
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company was officially launched on August 1, 2000. The first lot of Original Blue was poured into forms in an old converted horse barn that had been rebuilt as a state-of-the-art cheese plant. The secret to all the cheeses made on the farm lies in the unique combination of 3 key ingredients: Grade A raw milk from a closed herd of Holstein cows that graze on the green pastured hills overlooking Tomales Bay, the coastal fog and the salty Pacific breezes. The all natural product line consists of Original Blue, Pt. Reyes Toma, and the newest releases, Pt. Reyes Bay Blue and Fresh Mozzarella. Original Blue and Toma have both garnished the gold for best dairy product at the Specialty Food Show (2011 and 2013); Bay Blue received a gold at the 2013 Good Food Awards, honoring not only great cheese but outstanding overall farm sustainability practices; Bay Blue also took home the highest award of Best Overall New Product at the 2013 Specialty Food Show.
Robert Giacomini Dairy and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company is a family company dedicated to sustainable farming practices and animal humane care. Our mission is to be loyal to the stewardship of the land, care of the animals and care of our employees; only then can we enjoy the cheese.
How did you move from farming to cheese making?
In 1997 we sat down as a family to discuss the future of our ranch and the continuing struggles of a conventional dairy. The price of milk was staying stable while all other inputs were increasing. We knew if we wanted to continue in agriculture we had to diversify and create a value added product. At the same time Cowgirl Creamery had just started producing their artisan cheese with Straus Milk, a dairy up the road from us. My sisters and I love to cook and love cheese; our father wanted to bring an all-natural product to the market and so with that common interest and the growing artisan cheese movement we decided to turn our milk into cheese.
Describe your farm. How do the characteristics of the farm influence the resulting cheese?
Our farm resides in Point Reyes on Tomales Bay in Marin County, CA. The West Marin area has always been rich in agriculture and has a perfect climate for dairies. Our mild year-round climate of 65 degrees means we have a longer grazing season for our cows and longer growing season for our grasses. We have 700 acres and milk 350 cows. We are farmstead, which means everything comes from our land and we use only our own milk in our cheeses. It starts with the grasses we grow, the animal husbandry and nutrition of the cows. We are animal humane certified and our milk is rbst free (no hormones). Healthy animals means good quality milk for our cheese makers to work with.
How is your cheese unique to the area in which it’s made?
Because we are farmstead, the unique flavors come from the milk. It is similar to an estate-grown vineyard: very specific flavors to the region. We want the bright sweet flavors of the milk to come through in the cheese. When we first started making cheese in 2000, we decided to make blue cheese, first because we love blue vein cheeses but we also noticed no one was making it in California, so that provided a niche for us.
Which of your cheeses is most popular? What’s your personal favorite?
Original Blue is our flagship cheese because that is all we made for the first nine years, and therefore we became known for that cheese. I love it because it is so creamy and goes with everything. In 2009 we introduced Toma to the marketplace answer the call of all the people who just didn’t like blue cheeses. Toma is our version of a farmer’s cheese; it is aged three months and is semi hard with a buttery taste up front and a nice nutty tang in the finish. It is a crowd pleaser. My personal favorite depends on the day and what I am pairing the cheese with – they are both my favorite!
What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy your cheese?
The simpler, the better. A cheese course with great nuts, honey and fruit paired with a nice sparkling wine or a chilled tawny port is a great summer treat. Of course, we make cheeses that are fabulous in the kitchen. Both Original Blue and Toma are great melting cheeses; both can be used in a pasta or in a galette with roasted butternut squash, or a wedge of blue can be added to a steak or Burger. They can be salad additions and are perfect for a grilled cheese paired with figs, caramelized onion and apples.
Any tips for people serving cheese at home? Foods and wines to pair it with, or surprising combinations?
For something unexpected, our Original Blue pairs great with gingersnap cookies; instead of bread for a dessert course, have it with your favorite gingersnaps. I also like Original Blue in a salad with mint and watermelon in the summertime.
Toma’s tag line is “any time, any table” because it truly is an everyday cheese that all ages love. We particularly enjoy it with a hoppy-style beer like Lagunitas Hop Stoopid – great afternoon treat. I like to grill peaches or nectarines, then put Toma or Original Blue on them, let it melt slightly, and drizzle honey on top.
What do you love about living and working in Marin County?
I love the agricultural history that is preserved in West Marin. Being so close to the urban edge of San Francisco makes West Marin so special. The community of Marin County gets it when you talk about food and where it comes from and the importance of small family farms. We are fortunate to be able to work in a generational family business and carry that on through diversification.